Will review date of resumption of global flights, says Home Ministry

Our Bureau | | | Updated on: Nov 28, 2021
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Genomic surveillance to be beefed up to detect Omicron

Reacting to the growing threat from the new Covid-19 variant, Omicron, which is possibly more contagious than the previous ones, the government has decided to review the effective date for resumption of scheduled commercial international flights as well as the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) on testing and surveillance of incoming international passengers.

“Decision on effective date of resumption of scheduled commercial international passengers service to be reviewed as per evolving global scenario,” a Home Ministry spokesperson said.

“The genomic surveillance for variants is to be further strengthened and intensified. Airport Health Officials (APHOs) and Port Health Officials (PHOs) to be sensitised for strict supervision of testing protocol at airports/ports,” a spokesperson of the Home Ministry tweeted after a meeting called by the Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla with various stakeholders, including health experts, on Sunday.

‘At risk’ nations

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan shot off a letter to all States and UTs asking them to intensify containment and surveillance measures, expand vaccination coverage and enforce Covid-appropriate behaviour.

The ‘at risk’ countries identified by the Health Ministry include all European countries including the UK, South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong and Israel.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had called a meeting of senior officials on Saturday asking them to review plans for easing of international travel curbs . The Civil Aviation Ministry had announced its intention of resuming scheduled international flights from December 15 just a day before.

Many States have already increased their vigilance and testing and surveillance measures for international travellers. Madhya Pradesh has mandated Covid-19 tests for all people who arrived in the State from international destinations in the past one month. Karnataka has ordered additional restrictions at the airports. Maharashtra had announced on Saturday that all international passengers arriving from South Africa will be quarantined.

“There is no need for any concern as of now as the number of new cases in the State are low and precautions are being taken at the Hyderabad airport to screen arriving passengers,” said G Srinivas Rao, Director, Public Health, Telangana.

“Omicron can only be detected by genomic study but in the RT PCR report, if we are getting a S gene dropout, that should raise a red flag about the presence of this variant,” said Dr Kedar Toraskar, Director, Critical Care, Wockhardt Hospital.

As the new variant has a large number of mutations and some mutations are highly contagious, it is imperative to do more genome sequencing to detect it, said Dr CM Singh of AIIMS, Patna.

With inputs from G Naga Sridhar, Hyderabad

Published on November 29, 2021

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